Heart of the Blackhawks: The Pierre Pilote Story

Heart of the Blackhawks: The Pierre Pilote Story


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“The book is a sympathetic and detailed account of Pilote’s journey to Hockey immortality . . . Hockey fans — especially old time Hawks devotees — will delight in the portraits offered here of Pilote’s equally famous teammates.” — Publishers Weekly

From the beginning, the hockey gods looked favourably on Pierre Pilote, a French Canadian lad who went on to become captain of the powerhouse Chicago Blackhawks in the 1960s and one of the greatest defencemen in NHL history. Pilote takes us on a rich and unforgettable journey through the rinks and dressing rooms of the Junior “A” St. Catharines Teepees and AHL Buffalo Bisons to his first big and embarrassing shift as a rookie with the Blackhawks. Sit on the bench when Pilote plays with the likes of Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Glenn Hall, Moose Vasko, and while he is coached by Tommy Ivan, Rudy Pilous, and Billy Reay; get up close for his on-ice battles with Rocket Richard, Gordie Howe, and Henri Richard; and hear the incredible story of how “the swingingest team” from the Windy City captured the imaginations of fans and the hockey world in their 1961 pursuit of the elusive Stanley Cup.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781770413672
Publisher: ECW Press
Publication date: 09/13/2016
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 1,183,695
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

L. Waxy Gregoire is a hockey buff, member of the International Hockey Researchers Association, and secretary of the Penetanguishene Sports Hall of Fame, where he is heavily involved in researching and writing about local hockey. He lives in Penetanguishene, Ontario. David M. Dupuis, former goaltender, coach, and goaltending instructor, and registered practical nurse, is a member of the International Hockey Researchers Association. He is the author of the bestselling hockey biography Sawchuk: The Troubles and Triumphs of the World’s Greatest Goalie (Stoddart, 1998). He lives in Tiny, Ontario. Pierre Pilote, born in 1931 in Kénogami, Québec, became a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1975. He lives in Wyevale, Ontario.

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Heart of the Blackhawks

The Pierre Pilote Story

By L. Waxy Gregoire, David M. Dupuis, Pierre Pilote


Copyright © 2013 L. Waxy Gregoire, David M. Dupuis, Pierre Pilote
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-77090-427-9


The Kénogami Kid

Today, the sprawling City of Saguenay is comprised of the amalgamated towns of Chicoutimi, Kénogami, Jonquière, and Arvida, but in the 1800s, they were all small, growing towns.

The vast pristine, virgin lands, abundant lakes, rivers, and forests of northern Québec were ideal for the lumber industry, and the Saguenay region had always relied on it. Powered by a 27,000-horsepower hydroelectric dam on the nearby Sable River, the pulp and paper industry ran the town at the start of the twentieth century.

The town of Jonquière, named after the Marquis de La Jonquière, governor of New France from 1749 to 1752, was founded in 1847. Kénogami, situated on the northern shore of the lake that bears its Innu name, meaning "Long Lake," was originally part of the town of Jonquière. Though detached in 1911, they were really joined at the hip.

In the late 1800s, young Albert Pilote moved with his family to the Saguenay region as his father looked for employment in the lumber industry. He grew up, met and fell in love with a local Innu girl named Madeleine Dallaire, who was born on the shores of Lac St. Jean at the Innu reserve near Roberval, north of Kénogami. Not not to be mistaken with the Inuit of the far north, this Innu band was also known as "les Montagnais," or the Inuatsh of Pekuakami.

After marrying in June 1906, the couple moved to Kénogami where Albert secured work at the paper mill. Though it appeared that they severed all ties with the band, his bride would be known as mystical, a medicine woman who informally carried on her many traditional herbal cures and practices.

From the beginning, Madeleine ruled while Albert, a quieter and meeker partner, succumbed to her direction and whims around the house. Their brood soon grew to six daughters and four sons, including one Paul Émile Pilote, born on April 4, 1908.

By the time he was 14, Paul began working at Price Brothers, as a log sorter and loader in the large holding area that surrounded the pulp and paper mill. The holding pond was fed by a mile-long, water-fed shoot that carried the cut logs or "pitoune" as the French called them, from as far away as Lac Saint Jean. Paul used a long gaff to sort and guide the logs onto a large conveyor belt which carried them into the mill to be ground into chips.

Paul eventually advanced in the mill, only to discover a situation within the company that was prevalent throughout industrial Québec in this time period: the English had better, higher paying jobs than the unskilled French labourers. Paul looked past his early frustrations. He needed the job and wouldn't make any waves, not just yet.

Paul met Maria Gagné, daughter of Adeos Gagné, a widowed lumberman from the Gaspé region who had moved his family to the Saguenay in search of steady work. Maria's mother had died when she was 12 years old and Maria became the instant surrogate mother to her other siblings and assumed the unpleasant task of cooking at her father's lumber camp.

English prejudice was a contributing factor in young Paul's becoming an accomplished boxer, soon earning the moniker "Kayo" Pilote. Though not a big man at 150 pounds, Paul's fists were fast and solid, and did some of his talking. His amateur fights in the region were well enough organized that he ran miles a day to prepare. He didn't lose many, as exhibited shortly after his marriage to Maria on April 3, 1928, when he knocked out a group of larger, drunken men who unwisely challenged him at a wedding reception, which only increased his local legend.

They moved into an apartment on the corner of rues Bergeron and Cabot in Kénogami and attempted to start a family, but two pregnancies resulted in stillbirths. When labour pains began on December 11, 1931, the third pregnancy threatened to have the same fate. Arriving from Jonquière, Dr. Ernest Marchand explained the dire situation to the worried husband.

"It's a pretty big baby in there, Mr. Pilote," Marchand told him. "I'm not sure it's even going to come out!" They both knew the consequences of that.

Working quickly to save the baby and the mother, the young doctor was able to turn the baby to just the right angle within the birth canal and, gently but firmly, pull the child out. After a few tense moments, Joseph Albert Pierre Paul Pilote came screaming healthily into the cold world.

This pregnancy was followed by another stillbirth, which ensured young Pierre would be nursed for an extra year. "I could almost walk and talk and I was still being breastfed!" — a situation that he would jokingly credit with his future good health and toughness.

A new world awaited little Pierre as he grew up in the barren, cold landscape around Kénogami. With busy parents, he was on his own to explore and survive in it. Though he grew wiser before his time, he was still a child at heart.

"Christmas only truly happened to me once — when I was six or seven," he recalled. "I was still sleeping and Dad walked into the house with snow on his boots, to make tracks like Santa. Then he quickly woke me up yelling, 'Pierre! Pierre! Santa's here! He's here in the house! Hurry out and you might still see him!'"

Pierre ran excitedly into the living room but was disappointed at only finding snowy footprints run rampant throughout the house. Still, his disappointment was tempered at the close encounter.

"I almost saw Santa!" Pierre laughed. "I just missed him!"

A few years later, Pierre and two friends decided to fetch their family's respective Christmas trees. The day was bitterly cold and things soon took an ominous turn as they had greatly underestimated the task and the weather conditions.

"We quickly became disoriented in the thick bush," recalled Pierre. "It took quite a while to find our way back, and with only one tree. One of the guys almost lost his foot because of frostbite. Our winters were bitterly cold! You had to respect them. It was a lesson learned."

Paul's house was in close proximity to Albert and Madeleine Pilote's, ensuring that young Pierre would be strongly influenced by his grandparents.

"My grandfather Pilote belonged to the Knights of Columbus," Pierre related. "In the summer evenings he would walk by our place to go play cards at their hall. There had been a shoeshine parlour up the street and I had thought to myself: 'Why can't I do that?' So, one evening, I got a box and put a chair on it, put it right at the corner of our property and waited for grandfather to walk to the K.C. Hall. Sure enough around six o'clock he was walking by on the other side of the street and I yelled to him: 'Hey Grandpapa! Can I shine your shoes?'"

Albert Pilote smiled and ambled on over to his seven-year-old entrepreneurial grandson and became Pierre's first customer. At the end of the exercise Albert gave him a dime. Pierre's eyes lit up like firecrackers. It was his first business transaction, one he would never forget.

"I often walked over to Grandmaman's. She was a hard-working lady who controlled everything, especially my grandfather. She was a great cook and fed me all the time. Grandmaman's tourtière at Christmas and New Year's was something else. I helped her with her chores. She liked me — the first Pilote grandchild. She was also a real gossipy type who didn't get along with my mother. She'd spy on my mother. Grandmaman sometimes tried to instill some warped ideas into my head but that was not a problem because I always thought for myself, but she did teach me things."

One day Madeleine was making soap and sent her grandson to the store to buy 10 pounds of salt. Little Pierre could barely carry it back the three blocks. When he arrived, spent, she smiled at him.

"Now Pierre?" she asked him, taking his load from him. "What's heavier ... 10 pounds of salt or 10 pounds of feathers?" The answer seemed easy to him.

"Why, Grandmaman, 10 pounds of salt!" he proclaimed quickly without thinking. She laughed without saying a word, watching him think it over. He soon realized the answer and the lesson, one of many.

Pierre attended a French elementary school called École Sacré Coeur (Sacred Heart School), run by a denomination of Christian Brothers dedicated to Catholic education throughout Canada. Despite the Christian setting, animosity between the English and the French seemed to crystallize here.

"In class if you didn't use an English word you got a little cross. But if you used an English word, then a classmate could take your cross. So there was a lot of animosity between the English and us French kids right there! I didn't have to worry too much about losing crosses because I could never speak English, but my first English words were, 'Do you want to fight?' We used to taunt the English kids who lived on the other side of the railroad tracks."

In Kénogami, with a lot of big families around, a boy soon learned he had to defend himself. Pierre remembered one particular bully who was always pushing him around after school. One day, Pierre got fed up of the ritual and humiliation.

"I was afraid of him for sure but I just hauled off and hit him solid! Bang! He went down and I ran home! He never picked on me again. I didn't really like to fight at school, only if I had to."

Once, Pierre's tough tendencies directly affected his family. The Pilotes rented the basement of a duplex and Pierre played with the landlord's son.

"Rodé Coulombe had a wooden wagon with an emblem of a plane on the side," recalled Pierre. "I had a red steel wagon with an emblem of a fast train on the side and I could always push my wagon faster than he could. One day we got into an argument about what was faster: a plane or a train. Of course I said a train was faster, he said the plane. We finally asked his brother to decide and naturally his brother sided with him. I didn't like that answer.

"Having lost the intellectual argument, I decided to make it physical and I threw a stone and hit Rodé right in the head. He went home crying. Rodé's father, our landlord, was livid and got into an argument with Dad, who came back into the apartment steaming, saying, 'That's it! We're moving out!' I was never sure if we got evicted or if Dad decided but we were soon on the move — because of me!

"My grandparents had a big lot so Dad hired a contractor and built us a house right next door, on my grandparents' lot. Afterwards Dad said to me: 'If Rodé Coulombe comes on this property, you get 'em!' I never did and in fact we stayed good friends, even long after, but it was a lesson learned about the consequences of fighting."

In Pierre's early days in Kénogami, Knights of Columbus community picnics were common and baked beans were plentiful, with varying degrees of succulence.

"Some folks made great baked beans, and some were just awful, I mean really bad! You had to really know who made the best ones," Pierre explained. "We'd go around with Dad, because he knew the ones not to eat!"

At one such picnic, one of the Christian Brothers fell out of a truck, struck his head on the pavement and subsequently died from his injuries.

"A week later, the head of the Brothers got the whole school together, about six hundred of us," recalled Pierre. "We're all standing there and he talked about the death of the Brother and then said afterwards, very seriously: 'We will have to replace Brother so and so. One of you will have to decide one day to enter the order and replace him.' I looked around and thought to myself, it ain't gonna be me!"

From the beginning, the children were drilled to pray constantly, especially before going to bed, and attend church every Sunday. To not do so would guarantee one's place in hell. The scare tactic worked: "I said my six Hail Marys, six Our Fathers every night until I was 25, no kidding! I always went to church every Sunday. I thought of it as a good luck charm, but I didn't always agree with their rules. My aunt was refused communion once because she was attending a Protestant high school. I thought that was silly, but the church ruled by fear. They sure scared the heck out of me! But one good thing the church and school had — a rink.

"My first pair of skates were my mother's. I used to shove things in the toes so they would fit me," he remembered. "There were about 30 or 40 of us on the rink at school skating around. The Brothers were playing hockey with some of the older boys. We were just skating around, and I remember falling in front of the net on this one Brother's hockey stick. Sticks back then were rough and really full of slivers.

"This Brother didn't even think twice and just pulled on his stick and I ended up with a huge, huge sliver in my right buttock. Oh it hurt! I raced home crying and my mother tried for about three hours to pull it out without success. We finally walked to see Dr. Marchand, who froze it and got that sliver out. It was an injury that is sensitive to this day. I have a few of those — reminders of my past, and my first one connected to hockey!"

Though his parents were concerned about his physical health, they were certainly less worried about his academics, a sign of the times.

"My parents were never concerned about my homework or my marks," recalled Pierre. "It was normal not to worry about those things back then. Life out of school is what mattered."

Until his 11th birthday, life out of school was summertime, and for Pierre that meant only one thing — time spent at his uncles Lionel and Maurice Pilote's 30-acre camp on the Shipshaw River. His father's two brothers had left home in their mid-teens and squatted on virgin land on the river north of Kénogami. Cutting trees and clearing the land, they eventually grew an assortment of vegetables, raised pigs, cows, horses, chickens, and other animals.

"My aunts Rosa and Violette would bring me up there in the summertime. My first chores were to feed the animals," he recalled. "Then I'd pick up the fresh cow's milk that had been collected every morning and put it in the stream to keep cold. I had to pick up the milk and bring it to my grandmother. She would spread the cream from the top of the milk on fresh homemade bread for me cooked from the outdoor oven — oh boy! That was good!"

The camp also presented its own dangers. One day, young Pierre was playing at the end of the dock on the water, when he suddenly slipped and fell into the water. Unable to swim, he screamed out as loud as he could, thrashing about in the cold water. Seemingly alone, he was a goner.

"I was lucky someone heard me! It was pure luck because I was often left to my own devices. I was just small. And I remember being scared a lot as a little guy because I had to always watch out for bears. There were always bears around. I would have been easy pickin'!"

While at the camp, Pierre's aunts also found time for courtship. One Saturday young Pierre's inquisitive, teasing nature and outspokenness collided with his aunt Rosa's courtship ritual as Rosa's boyfriend and future husband, René, was bicycling the 15 miles that evening to court her. But first, she had to get ready.

"That afternoon my grandmother is picking lice out of my aunt Rosa's hair with a fine tooth comb. Wow!" Pierre remembers with a laugh. "Now I'm sitting there, quiet, watching, taking it all in when they suddenly realize that I'm there. They all look at me."

"Pierre!" said his aunt. "You don't say a damn word about this to anybody! Hear?"

"Oh no! I won't!" Pierre answered, shaking his head side-to-side.

Later that evening, after Rosa's boyfriend had arrived, they were all sitting around talking. Pierre had taken quite a liking to the young man who always teased and talked to him. Suddenly, a thought came to his head.

"Hey René!" Pierre declared with a big grin. "Guess what I saw this afternoon!"

"What?" René asked him.

To the horror of the ladies and before they could stop him, Pierre described the cleaning of the lice from his girlfriend's hair. The women, horrified, started screaming at Pierre and chased him from the room.

"Oh boy, did I put my big foot into my mouth and get into trouble with my grandmother and Aunt Rosa! Oh boy!" Pierre laughed. "The cabin had two big rooms, one of which had a row of bunk beds. I got sent to bed in that room. I didn't dare come out the rest of the night!"

Paul Pilote occasionally helped his brothers and earned money himself by picking up and selling their cords of wood back in Kénogami. First he enlisted Pierre and his friends to help.


Excerpted from Heart of the Blackhawks by L. Waxy Gregoire, David M. Dupuis, Pierre Pilote. Copyright © 2013 L. Waxy Gregoire, David M. Dupuis, Pierre Pilote. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Winter of His Youth 1

Chapter 1 The Kénogami Kid 5

Chapter 2 Coming of Age in Fort Erie 20

Chapter 3 Flight of the Teepee 36

Chapter 4 Joining the Herd 55

Chapter 5 Wedding Bells and Insights 74

Chapter 6 Pierre, You're Up! 89

Chapter 7 This Could Get Interesting, Chicago! 103

Chapter 8 The Son Rises in Chicago 118

Chapter 9 A Hawk and a Jet Take Flight 134

Chapter 10 Coming Together 153

Chapter 11 Beware the Habs of March 165

Chapter 12 Dancing With Stanley 178

Chapter 13 Easier to Climb the Mountain than to Stay on Top 196

Chapter 14 Shakes, Breaks, And Hello, Mr. Norris 214

Chapter 15 "He's Just Like the Rocket!" 232

Chapter 16 A Swingin' Record Setter and DSMO 251

Chapter 17 Absence Makes the Hawks Grow Fonder 269

Chapter 18 Hey Muldoon, Get Out of Here! 284

Chapter 19 Final Assault on the Bridge 300

Chapter 20 The Defence Rests 318

Chapter 21 The Last Punch 330

Chapter 22 Where Have you Gone, Pierre Pilote? 342

Appendix: Pierre Pilote's Career Statistics 351

Selected Bibliography 353

Acknowledgements 355

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